Baylor has been hoping its head-to-head edge over TCU would ultimately be the calling card that would catapult it over the Horned Frogs into the playoff.
The Bears still have reason believe they can make the playoff.
But it might not be the head-to-head advantage over TCU that gets them there.
Tuesday night, the College Football Playoff selection committee released perhaps it most controversial set of rankings yet.
In a stunner, the committee bumped TCU head of undefeated and defending national champ Florida State into the No. 3 slot. Baylor, meanwhile, was left on the outside looking in all the way back at No. 6.
The committee has noted it would only implement a head-to-head tiebreaker if two teams were close. At the moment, the committee doesn't see TCU and Baylor as being close, underscored by the three-spot gap. Committee chairman Jeff Long wasn't shy in saying the committee believes TCU is "better" than Baylor, either, even though the Bears beat TCU 61-58 in Waco on Oct. 11.
"It's a number of things we look at, and we believe TCU is better and deserving of that No. 3 rank over Baylor," Long said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday night. "We've certainly analyzed statistical data. We've compared those. We've contrasted them. We've looked at the facts, the quality of the wins. As we pointed out before, TCU has five wins over teams with winning records of .500 records and above, and Baylor has three, if you include Texas at 6‑6. Those are factors we've taken -- certainly our coaches and others in the room look at the way the game is played, evaluate the games, evaluate the competition. Again, that's what this committee, human committee does. It evaluates the teams on their play in the game. That's one of the things we use to discern between teams."
Baylor has the opportunity to deliver a statement win to the committee this weekend against No. 9 Kansas State. Should Baylor blast the Wildcats, Florida State handle Georgia Tech and Wisconsin knock off Ohio State, it's possible the committee winds up with the Seminoles third, then TCU and Baylor vying for the fourth spot. In that scenario, perhaps the committee gives Baylor the edge, because of head-to-head.
But as of now, it's difficult to fathom that one game will narrow the gap enough for Baylor to pass TCU. Long, in fact, reiterated Tuesday that the committee would view the Bears and Horned Frogs both as equal champions of the Big 12, since the Big 12 recognizes co-champions.
"We will not determine a champion for the Big 12," Long said. "We will take the information that the Big 12 provides us."
For all of those reasons, the ESPN-affiliated statistical Web site FiveThirtyEight.com gives TCU a 96.3 percent chance of making the playoff heading into the final week -- the highest rate of any team. As long as the Horned Frogs avoid pulling a Kansas and allow Iowa State to hang around into the fourth quarter, they will be difficult to drop out of the top four.
Which is why TCU is sitting pretty. While the Bears might need help elsewhere.
Though maybe not much.
Baylor simply may need Georgia Tech to just beat Florida State. That would put the fourth spot back up for grabs, between, assuming they both won this weekend, Baylor and Ohio State.
The committee sees otherwise, but the justification for ranking the Buckeyes over Baylor is difficult to understand. The Bears have the better wins (TCU and OU vs. Michigan State and Minnesota), the better losses (West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech) and play in the tougher conference, at least according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The committee is also charged with picking the four "best" teams, not necessarily the four most deserving. How the committee could view Ohio State with its third-string quarterback as being better than Baylor with Bryce Petty seems incomprehensible.
So if Baylor takes care of business this weekend and Florida State's luck runs out, the Bears could join TCU in the final four.
One final aside: the scenario nobody seems to be talking about involves Kansas State. The Wildcats quietly moved up three spots to No. 9 this week, and can't be completely discarded from the playoff picture. Should K-State roll past Baylor, Wisconsin beat Ohio State and Georgia Tech finally take out the Seminoles, the Wildcats could conceivably slip into the fourth spot.
Heading into the final week of the season, playoff drama is cresting, nowhere more so than in Big 12 country.
After Tuesday, the Horned Frogs are feeling good.
The Bears are feeling nervous.
And the Wildcats are feeling anything is possible.
Who will be in?
Only four days to find out.